A lot of people were waiting for Johnny Boychuk to make his return for the New York Islanders. It finally came last night.
After he had not suited up since game one of the qualifying round against the Florida Panthers, where he suffered a concussion after taking a high hit from Florida’s Mike Matheson, Boychuk finally got the call from head coach Barry Trotz to go back into the lineup.
Boychuk didn’t disappoint in his first game back, which just happened to be the biggest of the postseason for his team; the Islanders were appearing in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals trailing the series 3-1to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In only the fashion he knows how, the 16-year vet led by example with a throwback, workman-like performance as the Isles forced game a six with a 2-1 win in double-overtime on a Jordan Eberle goal.
â€œHe brings a presence for us,” said fellow defensemen Ryan Pulock. “He goes out there, he blocks shots, he plays tough. We knew when he was getting his opportunity, he was going to step in and do his job. Big block early on the kill, and just playing hard. Thatâ€™s what we expect from him, and thatâ€™s what he did.â€
That presence Pulock was referring to was felt early and often. Boychuk’s crucial block on a one-timer from Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov at the end of the Lightning’s first power play of the night basically saved a possible goal. The block too, not only stopped a scoring chance, but Boychuk took the wicked slapper off the chest and immediately hunched over in pain. Talk about being welcomed back to playoff hockey.
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Boychuk wasn’t done yet though.
Towards the end of the first frame, he blocked another shot — the second of his team-high six — only this time, he ended up losing his blade because of it. That moment also came with the Lightning buzzing, helping to keep them at bay as the period winded down.
After that eventful first, Boychuk’s name wasn’t heard much the rest of the night. Despite not seeing the ice much — just 12:04 to be exact — Boychuk’s leadership still reined throughout the game and it most certainly had an impact. Boychuk’s “energy” which Trotz alluded to — from he having gone through a situation like the one the Isles were tasked last night and because he’s been with the team for a long time — also helped give the team a much-needed boost.
“Johnny’s one of those unique guys you come across,” Trotz said following the victory. “He’s old school. He’s one of the most likable guys you’re ever going to meet. One of the most committed guys. He’s got welts all over his body. Just gives you everything he has night in and night out. He’s fearless.”
Seeing how Boychuk performed in Game five also shouldn’t come as something new to many. Ever since he became an Islander, he’s been the consummate definition of what this team is all about — hard work and a team-first mindset. It was that way five years ago when he went toe-to-toe with Alex Ovechkin in the postseason and its the same way now. Last night was just another moment of what makes him one of the most respected leaders in that room.
“He’s really a little bit of a leader and a father figure for a lot of the young guys,” Trotz added.Â He’s always taking people around him.”
There should be no doubt Boychuk should be in for game six. The 11F/7D format seemed to help the Islanders, with he being that extra blueliner. But more than just that, it was Boychuk’s leadership which spoke more volumes than anything. It was clearly on full display and the Isles benefitted immensely from it.